Archive for the ‘Food & Catering’ Category

The Christmas tradition of putting a plastic net bag of gold-foil wrapped chocolate coins in children’s Xmas stockings along with a satsuma or clementine took a bit of knock in 2014. Cadbury’s announced in October that year that it had stopped making its chocolate coins. The chocolate-maker said shoppers had switched to cheaper, own-brand versions sold at supermarkets such as Aldi, Lidl and Poundland, leaving its own sales in decline.

cadburys chocolate coins

As well as declining sales, Cadbury’s said that wrapping the foil around the coin-shaped chocolate was ‘quite fiddly’. Wasn’t fiddling with the foil and trying to remove it intact, part of the attraction of the coins at Christmas. Apparently the last remaining box of 24 bags of coins were snapped up on eBay for £100, well before their sell-by date.

A spokesperson explained that the coins, which were made by a ‘separate contractor’, had proved difficult to sell and that the process of wrapping the foil around the coins was not easy, adding ‘we are sorry to see the coins go, but that’s business’. Making chocolates has always been a business where continuous reinvention seeks to repeat the success of earlier forever popular chocolate bars.

The first company to make a moulded chocolate bar as we know it today was J S Fry & Sons in 1847 at their factory in Bristol, England. Joseph Fry found a way to mix cocoa powder and sugar plus a little melted cocoa butter extracted from the beans, to produce a paste that could be moulded into a chocolate bar suitable for large-scale production. It was coarse and bitter by today’s standards, but it was still a revolution. The paste could also be poured over fillings and in 1866, Fry’s Chocolate Cream was launched (image below).

frys chocolate creamDuring the late 1800s, and early 1900s, the manufacture of cocoa and confectionery in Britain was largely dominated by Cadbury’s in Birmingham, Fry’s in Bristol, and Rowntree’s and Terry’s both in York, all of whom were Quaker families. This wasn’t just a coincidence. The Quakers were social reformers, and extracting cocoa from cocoa beans to make drinks was a reaction against the perceived misery and deprivation caused by alcohol. Then the companies turned to the making of chocolate. But today these names exist only as brands owned by international companies. Cadbury (the ‘s’ was dropped in 2003) and Terry’s are now owned by US-based Mondelēz International, the second-largest confectionery manufacturer in the world after Mars (though Mondelēz is looking to sell the Terry’s brand). Fry’s was taken over by Cadbury’s in 1919, and Rowntree’s is owned by a Finnish company, Raisio Group.

Confectioners Are Swallowed Up 

sharp's super-kreem toffee, sir kreemy knut

Sharp’s introduced Sir Kreemy Knut in 1919 to promote their Super-Kreem Toffee, a dapper aristocratic character with cane and bowler hat. After WWII, Knut was resurrected as a live diminutive sales rep Nobby Clarke, a regular visitor at shows and seaside resorts during the 1950s, who arrived in a Rolls Royce. Sadly none of the brands made by Sharp’s survived for long after its sale to Trebor in 1961.

Though Fry’s was swallowed up in 1919 it wasn’t until the 1960s that other major confectioners went the way of Fry’s, or merged, often a euphemism for a take-over.

Trebor bought Sharp’s in 1961, and Clarnico in 1969. Bassett’s bought Pascall in 1965, and Barratt’s in 1966. Bassett’s then merged with Maynards and Trebor in 1990, and were then bought by Cadbury Schweppes in 1998, and finally by Tangerine Confectionery in 2008 (now the largest independent confectionery company in Britain).

Mackintosh’s bought Wilkinson’s in 1964, Fox’s in 1969, and then merged with Rowntree’s in the same year. In 1988, Rowntree-Macintosh was bought by Nestle, and Paynes was bought by Northern Foods. Fox’s (still owned by Nestle) was bought by Northern Foods in 2001, then Fox’s and Payne’s were bought by Big Bear Confectionery in 2003, which was then bought by Raisio in 2011.

Cadbury’s and Terry’s came to be owned by Mondelēz as a result of Kraft Foods buying Terry’s Suchard in 1993, and Cadbury’s in 2010. A year later, Kraft Foods split in two with the confectionery arm, which included Cadbury and Terry’s, becoming part of Mondelēz.

Some Sweets Still Live on

Though the original confectioners have long gone, their names live on as brands as do some of their most popular lines. Each sweet and each company has its own story, but here are a few snippets.

tangerine confectionery, barratts sherbet fountain

When Tangerine Confectionery, owners of Barratt’s Sherbet Fountain, updated the sweet’s packaging in 2009, they faced a predictable backlash from customers. The new, hermetically sealed fountain may have protected the product from moisture and avoided spillage on newsagents’ shelves, but generations of kids delighted in its original, eccentric, sherbet sucking and tongue tingling form. Tucked in the back pocket, the yellow paper tube looked pleasingly like a stick of dynamite.

Barratt’s Sherbet Fountains was first sold in 1925, the sherbet contained in a paper wrapped cardboard tube with a liquorice ‘straw’ stuck in the top. The tip of the straw was bitten off so as to suck up the sherbet, though it could get clogged up and the stick was then used a dip. The traditional packing was replaced in 2009 by a plastic tube and a solid liquorice stick which caused a media outcry. The Barratt’s factory was in Wood Green, London. By the early 1900s it had become the firm’s custom to give every worker a Christmas present. In December 1913, this took the form of an alarm clock, and it is said that Mr G W Barratt, son of the founder, personally presented about 2,000 of them.

When sales representative for Bassett’s, Charlie Thompson, in 1899 spilt a tray of liquorice and cream paste samples of chips, rocks, buttons, cubes and twists samples in front of a shopkeeper in Leicester, Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts was born. The resulting colourful mix impressed the chap who placed the first order for ‘allsorts’. Bertie Bassett, Bassett’s promotional mascot was introduced in 1929. Bertie has remained a popular figure ever since and to celebrate his 80th birthday, Cadbury arranged in 2009 for Bertie to marry his sweetheart Betty Bassett in the Sheffield factory where Allsorts were then produced.

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‘More than 5,000,000 of these biscuits made and sold every week’. So it says on the wrapper of a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer which is made in the Tunnock’s factory in Uddingston, a small town seven miles from Glasgow in Scotland. Five million bars is an impressive number of bars. If this is made up the number of the biscuits made in a week and the number sold in a week, it’s a bit like double counting.

tunnocks tea cakes, tunnocks boy

This is a box of 48 milk chocolate Tunnock’s Tea Cakes with the rosy-cheeked face of the Tunnock’s boy from the mid-1900s.

Tunnock’s, registered name Thomas Tunnock Limited, has two main lines, the Caramel Wafer and the Tunnock’s Tea Cake, both sold in milk or dark chocolate. A Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer is a bar of five layers of wafer, interspersed with four layers of caramel, and coated in chocolate, made from cocoa and milk solids. The milk chocolate wafers are wrapped in red and gold foil paper, the dark chocolate variety in blue and gold.

A Tunnock’s Tea Cake bears no relation to a teacake, which is a sweet roll with dried fruit added to the mix, which is usually served toasted and buttered. It consists of a small round shortbread biscuit covered with a dome of Italian meringue, a whipped egg white concoction similar to marshmallow, which is encased in a thin layer of milk or dark chocolate. The milk chocolate teacakes are wrapped in red and silver foil paper, the dark chocolate teacakes in blue and gold. Three million Tunnock’s Tea Cakes are sold and made every week.

tunnocks caramel wafers

Here’s a pack of eight dark chocolate Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers.

Both the wrappers of the tea cakes and the wafers are ‘dead-wrapped’, that is without glue, so the wrappers come off quickly. There are two other Tunnock products, the Snowball, soft marshmallow with a chocolate flavoured coating, and the Caramel Log, a wafer and caramel biscuit, again with a chocolate flavoured coating, both sprinkled with roasted coconut.

tunnocks delivery van, bothwell, uddingston

Vans like this one were used to deliver Tunnock’s products to shops in the 1920s and 30s throughout the central belt of Scotland. Bothwell is where the factory is sited, a couple of miles from Uddingston.

The company was formed as Tunnock’s in 1890 by Thomas Tunnock, who was born in 1865, when he purchased a baker’s shop for £80 in Lorne Place in Uddingston. The two core products were introduced in the 1950s to replace cake which used sugar and fat that was still rationed after the Second World War, and which had a short-shelf life. The company is said to be the 20th oldest family firm in Scotland still in operation. It employs 520 staff and is headed by the grandson of Thomas, Boyd Tunnock CBE. The company has resisted pressure to make own brand biscuits for supermarkets. The face of the Tunnock’s Boy appears on much of the packaging of Tunnock’s products. You can read more about Tunnock’s and the factory in Uddingston here.

tunnocks caramel wafer

Grandson Daniel shows obvious delight in anticipation of what is believed to be his first Tunnock’s Milk Chocolate Caramel Wafer

In Scotland, Tunnock’s Tea Cakes have an iconic status, possibly evoking memories of childhood or symbolising ‘home’ for Scots around the world: the company exports to 30 countries, the biggest being Saudi Arabia. Factory tours are so popular that the there is a two-year-long waiting list. It is said that the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service gives Tunnock’s Tea Cakes to blood donors after giving blood. Dundee University has a Tunnock’s Tea Cake Appreciation Society and St Andrews University in Fife has a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Appreciation Society.

Other products or brands have followers and fan clubs, one of the more well-known is the spotters club of Eddie Stobart trucks which has over 25,000 members. There is a fan club for the chocolate spread Nutella, and for the canned meat Spam. There is even a fan club for the penetrating oil WD40. Whether or not this is a case of a company seizing an opportunity, or an otherwise ordinary even dull product catching the public eye, I don’t know, but Tunnocks is in a different class. You can’t feel fondness for a truck surely.

Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate 1984-98, seems to have had a soft spot for Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers. He wrote three ditties on the back of wafer wrappers and donated them to the St Andrews’ appreciation society. One of them is now in the hands of the Scottish Poetry Society.

To have swallowed a Crocodile
Would make anybody smile
But to swallow a Caramel Wafer
Is safer

tunnocks tea cakes, glasgow, commonwealth games, celtic park

At the opening ceremony of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games on 23 July 2014, dancers dressed as Tunnock’s Tea Cakes had a starring role as they pranced around Celtic Park stadium.

Tunnock’s Tea Cakes may have iconic status, but to me Tunnocks still sounds mildly humorous, a bit like tussocks, or the Trossachs, a range of hills north of Glasgow. It’s a catchy name, and it’s a big name. The Tour of Mull, an annual car rally held on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland, has been sponsored by Tunnock’s since 2005. Promotional items such as teacake and wafer wrapper tea towels, aprons, cushions, tote bags, umbrellas and mugs, and even a Tunnocks truck and a van, are produced by a Glasgow-based firm, Orb. In 2013, Tunnock’s agreed that the supermarket giant, Tesco, could sell its promotional items.

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school dinners, fulham, central kitchsnslondon county council

In my primary school in Fulham, London, unappetising potatoes and vegetables were served from heavy insulated metal containers brought from central kitchens run by London County Council.

Prior to 1954, when I was at primary school, food was still rationed following the Second World War which meant that butter, milk, eggs, meat, cheese and sugar was in short supply. School dinners were memorable only for being pretty dreadful. After that things began to improve. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, it is the school puddings that I remember the most. At my boy’s secondary school in west London, I particularly liked the chocolate pudding and chocolate sauce, though I don’t think that much chocolate was used as both the pudding and the sauce were pale in colour. I would stay back on the ‘extra helpings’ table at the end of the school dining room for seconds, or even thirds. Another favourite was baked jam roll, iced sponge cake with hundreds and thousands on top, bread and butter pudding, and treacle sponge pudding, all served with custard. I didn’t like the semolina with rose hip syrup so much, or the pink blancmange – it was always pink – or the rice pudding which always had a thick skin on it. Even if you asked to have it without the skin, the kitchen staff would often say that you couldn’t.

Most of the kitchen staff were fairly cheerful as far as I can recall, in contrast to most of the teachers. All the food was cooked on the premises in the kitchen, though I don’t think that in all the five years I was at the school, I ever ventured into the kitchen. It just wasn’t done. I don’t recall that many boys were fat. There were lots of carbohydrates and fat in the puddings, what nutritionists would call stodge, but then you didn’t have snacks. And we drank water, not squash. The water was supplied in metal jugs, and I think we drank from plastic cups.

At home, it was shepherd’s pie, corned beef hash, macaroni cheese, or spam fritters for tea, At the weekend it could be a Fray Bentos tinned steak and kidney pie, smoked haddock, a lamb or pork chop from the local butchers, or boiled or sliced ham from David Greig, a chain of grocery shops, who were rivals to Sainsburys. I can’t recall what we had for Sunday lunch but we did sometimes have a small chicken. Rice, noodles and pasta (apart from the macaroni, and tinned spaghetti) were simply not part of the British diet, and spices and herbs were used rarely. The only take-away was fish and chips. I think we ate quite well compared to many.

In the 1960s frozen food arrived and it was seen as a great innovation. Smedley’s fish fingers and Birds Eye peas, though I can’t remember frozen chips. For dessert it was often Del Monte or Libby’s tinned fruit with Carnation evaporated milk. Bird’s instant whip in five flavours was an improvement on jelly, and Walls neapolitan ice cream brick with its three flavours, chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla – sometimes replaced by a pale green pistachio – was a real treat. But my Nan would come to our house regularly and she would make proper puddings. The highlight for me was coming home to see a basin, in a pan of steaming water, covered by a piece of linen held on with string. That usually meant we were having spotted dick, with custard of course. Alternatively the pastry in the steaming saucepan was a sausage shape rolled up in linen and tied at each end. Spotted Dick was made from a flat sheet of suet pastry dough sprinkled with currants and raisins. If the pastry had been spread with jam, rather than with added dried fruit, then that would have been jam roly-poly (known in the 19th century as rowley-powley), and also called ‘dead man’s arm’ because some families apparently steamed it in an old shirt sleeve. I must have had roly-poly as a pudding at home, whether baked or steamed, but I can’t remember it. But why spotted dick?

spotted dick, custard, pudding

Spotted Dick once cooked, could, unintentionally or not, be quite dry and spongy, or stodgy and chewy. Some people like their custard thin and watery, others thick and creamy, but hopefully without any lumps or skin.

The pudding was first described in an 1849 cookbook The Modern Housewife or Ménagère by a socially progressive French chef Alexis Benoist Soyer, who became a celebrated cook in Victorian England. The book included a recipe for ‘Plum Bolster, or Spotted Dick-Rolle’ made from paste (pastry) and raisins, ‘tie in a cloth and boil for an hour’. Suet puddings had became popular by the 17th century thanks to the invention of the pudding cloth. The Pall Mall Gazette reported in 1892 that ‘the Kilburn Sisters … daily satisfied hundreds of dockers with soup and Spotted Dick’. ‘Spotted’ is a clear reference to the dried fruit that ‘spot’ the pudding. Though ‘dick’ was widely used as a term for pudding in the 19th century, its source is more obscure. It could be a corruption of the word pudding, evolving through puddink, then puddick, then finally dick.

In 2009, Flintshire County Council reversed a decision by its catering staff to change the name of the pudding on school menus to ‘Spotted Richard’ following a complaint from a person about the use of ‘Spotted Dick’, which has long been a source of amusement and double entendres. It is difficult to believe that this is a true story, but here is the report on the BBC website.

The joy associated with a steam pudding goes back a long way. In 1843, Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol, wrote:

Hallo. A great deal of steam. The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that. That was the pudding.

What was your favourite pudding at school?

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Between 1950 and 1957, the York chocolate maker Rowntree used portraits of women in national advertising campaigns in newspapers, magazines, and on ITV for their Aero chocolate bars. In post-war Britain, sugar rationing had finally come to an end, but Aero would still have been a luxury item. The advertising firm J W Thompson ran the campaign with the slogan ‘DIFFERENT … For her; AERO – the milk chocolate that’s different!’

‘Esteemed and emerging portrait painters and illustrators’ of the day such as Anthony Devas, Henry Marvell Carr, Vasco Lazzolo, Norman Hepple, and Fleetwood Walker, were commissioned to create forty paintings in oil of ‘large illustrations of girl’s heads’. Only twenty of the paintings however are known to still exist.

aero bar, chocolate bar, rowntree, rowntree's

In early 2013 researchers Kerstin Doble and Francesca Taylor, seconded from The National Archives to work at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at York University, were going through boardroom papers from the Rowntree company when they discovered the paintings. In October that same year they initiated an art and social history project called Who were the Aero Girls? to research the portraits. A national quest to uncover new information about the portraits was launched during National Chocolate Week 2013 with an exhibition at York Mansion House.

Some of the artists were known, though all but one of them are dead. The names of most of the sitters were unknown with their names written in pencil on the back of the canvas stretchers: ‘Alice’, ‘Anna’, ‘Audrey’, ‘Avril’, ‘Mary’, ‘Nancy’, ‘Wendy’, ‘Yvonne’, ‘The Country Girl’, ‘The Art Student’, or just ‘Unknown’.

Kerstin Doble told Channel 4 News, ‘When I first saw them it simply struck me that these oil paintings were hugely accomplished portraits of a disparate group of women, with plenty of references to old masters. Portraits in oil paint seemed out-of-place for commercial art of the 1950s, and I wondered how they had ended up in an archive otherwise filled with paper and parchment documents. They were hidden away alongside boxes of Rowntree’s sales figures, chocolate recipes, and board meeting minutes rather than with other artworks.’

A link to the project and to fifteen of the paintings is here. If you click on the Paintings link at the top, a mosaic of the paintings is displayed. Clicking on a particular picture displays a larger image of the picture and details of what is known about the artist and the sitter, and how the picture was used. There is a lot more information under the Explore link. Kerstin Doble has also written more about the project here.

In March 2014, Kerstin Doble wrote on the National Archives blog, here, that a more complete picture of the sitters and artists had begun to emerge. One of the sitters at the time was an impoverished art student, Rose Wylie, now 80 years old, who had just won a prestigious painting award.

Here is a black and white campaign advert that was shown on Yorkshire Television in 1955 though the identity of the sitter seems to be one of those that is unknown. It is not clear if the campaign was successful, since much of the increase in Aero’s sales during this post-war period can be attributed to a renewed appetite for consumer goods and the end of rationing after 1954.

aero bar, chocolate bar, rowntree, rowntree's

A display of Aero bars from 1935. The aerated chocolate was completely new and helped Rowntree’s compete with the other main chocolate maker Cadbury’s.

Aero chocolate was originally introduced by Rowntree’s in the North of England in October 1935 with the aim of wrestling a share of milk chocolate block sales from their rival Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. The bar was Aero Mint and it cost 2d (old pennies) equivalent to just less than 1p. But by the end of the year, it had proved so popular with customers that sales were extended throughout Britain. The popularity of the chocolate is due no doubt in part to its unique honeycomb bubbly texture that collapses as the bar melts. A milk chocolate variation was introduced in the 1970s, and many flavours and varieties have followed. It is now sold in over 30 countries. Aero has been manufactured in York by Nestlé since 1988, and three hundred and thirty Aero bars are wrapped per minute.

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It’s not everyday there’s a victory against the march of change where market forces so often prevail regardless of the consequences. A victory for simple things, for the old ways, for something that should be cherished.

brads tea hut, bikers tea hut, motor biker, fairmead road, epping forest

The tea hut at Fairmead Road in the heart of Epping Forest.

In Epping Forest, the ancient woodland and former royal forest of over 6,000 acres that straddles the border between north-east Greater London and Essex, there are two ‘tea huts’. Here for as long as people can remember, walkers, bikers, runners, cyclists and all sorts have stopped off for a cup of tea and to have a chat. One hut is just north of High Beach, near the Kings Oak public house, where there is quite a large open space, and it is here that large numbers of people come in the summer. The other tea hut is south of High Beach at the start of old Fairmead Road, near to the Robin Hood Pub roundabout on Epping New Road, the A104.

The hut is a gathering place for motor bikers, cyclists, horse riders, rangers, tradesmen stopping off in their vans for a tea break, blokes with looked-after retro cars, local people just dropping by, as well as a host of regular users of the forest. Some may have known the hut as Bert’s Tea Hut as it was run for many years by Bert Miller. Nowadays, it’s run by Bradley Melton, Bert’s grandson, and it’s known as the Biker’s Tea Hut or to others as Brad’s Tea Hut.

brads tea hut, bikers tea hut, epping forest, dave twitchett, john betjeman, candida lycett green

David Twitchett told the Friends of Epping Forest of his cycling memories from the Fifties, and on the left is a photo he took of the tea hut as it was at the time. On the right is a photo from the 1999 book Betjeman’s Britain compiled by his daughter Candida Lycett Green. The photographer is unidentified but the photo is dated October 1955.

Apart from a hut that’s painted green with a hatch and a side door, there’s only outdoor wooden benches, but the atmosphere is as far away as you can imagine from a high street coffee shop. And that’s its attraction. Whatever the weather (though a gazebo is put up if it’s raining hard), the tea hut is open 361 days of the year, with a fair range of hot and cold food and drinks at very reasonable prices, delivered cheerfully and efficiently, though don’t expect a cappuccino or a panini.

epping forest, edward mcknight kauffer, underground electric railways company

A pre-London Transport poster from 1920 by Edward McKnight Kauffer

In June last year, the City of London Corporation, who manage Epping Forest, announced that the ‘Mobile Refreshment Facility’ at Hill Wood, that is Brad’s Tea Hut, the lease on which was due to expire in December, was to be put out to tender. The reason given was that due to reductions of 12½ % in the budget for the management of the forest, the Corporation needed to ‘ensure value for money on its licensed outlets’. A ‘Service Statement Guide’ was issued with the invitations to tender. Item 7 said:

The Tenant will be expected to employ friendly and helpful staff with good communication and customer service skills with the necessary experience to perform duties efficiently and effectively. Staff are expected to be able to speak fluently to patrons and conduct themselves professionally at all times. Ongoing statutory training and customer care training should be provided.

Like many of the clauses in this guide, this was window dressing: it is only what may be desirable, rather than what is required. So having decided to go out for tender, the Corporation under pressure of budget cuts, would be looking more at the size of the bids than whether a bidder can offer anything better than what is provided already. What the existing customers thought didn’t seem to come into it.

Bradley’s family has been running the tea hut in one form or another for 84 years. Ernie Miller, Bradley’s great-uncle started the business in a mobile unit in 1930 which he towed up to High Beach. Ernie passed it over to his brother Bert, and after that Bradley’s grandmother, Min ran the hut, when it was known as ‘Min’s’. So Bradley Melton was going to have to tender for his own business so he could continue to serve the customers that had been built up by successive members of his family over the past eight decades.

save the tea hut petition, city of london corporation, steve barron, paul morris, ralph ankers, epping forest, bikers tea hut

Tea Hut campaigners Steve Barron, Paul Morris and Ralph Ankers delivered the petition on 27 June. This was reported as far afield as the Lancashire Telegraph!

What happened next was that a petition, Save The Tea Hut, was launched by Paul Morris, a familiar face at the hut. Within a few weeks the petition gathered 9,000 signatures. The local newspaper, the Epping Forest Guardian took up the fight, as did the local MP for Epping Forest Eleanor Laing who said that the strength of local feeling should be considered in the tendering process. The petition, which called for the Corporation not to put the lease of the tea hut out to tender, was delivered to the Corporation. Whilst the delegation was welcomed into the offices at the City Guildhall, the Corporation later decided that tendering would go ahead in order to ‘test the market’.

brian dean, her majesty the queen, eric pickles, bikers tea hut, high beach, epping forest

The reply to Brian Dean said that ‘Her Majesty has taken careful note of your concern … however this is not a matter in which The Queen would personally intervene’. Nevertheless the letter was passed onto the Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, who is also the MP for neighbouring Brentwood and Ongar.

One of the supporters, Brian Dean wrote to the Queen asking her ‘to intervene in the decision to tender out the tea hut at High Beach and, if at all possible, to put the necessary pressure in the right place that can cause this comedy of errors to be overturned’.

Someone posted on Facebook:

Over the years many people have used the hut as a focus for remembering relatives and friends that have passed on. Many people’s ashes have been scattered there, and there are many echoes of friends and loved ones that have been part of the 80-year-old community surrounding the place. People may well be gone, but they are remembered.

Bradley Melton put in his bid by the deadline of 18 July, and waited.

Paul Morris posted on Facebook:

That’s it, the chance to tender for the tea hut is over. We now have to wait and see if the views of the thousands of people that use this facility is listened to or not. Heritage, history, and family ties with the people and the past are hard to value but to thousands of us they are of paramount importance. To break such ties for us is not conservation, it is a disregard of the history and the wishes of thousands of people who wish to see the hut remain as it is with the same person running it.

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lunchbox, irrfan khan, dabbawala, mumbai

A lunchbox, prepared by a young housewife for her husband, is delivered in error to Saajan Fernandes (played by Irrfan Khan) at his office in Mumbai.

I recently watched an enjoyable film The Lunchbox made in 2013 by first-time director Ritesh Batra, set in modern-day Mumbai. A lunchbox is delivered to the wrong person, and this leads a young housewife, who is ignored by her husband, and an older man, who is about to retire, to correspond with each other through notes in the lunchbox, both seeking an escape from the frustrations of their lives. It is a delightful and engaging film.

The backdrop to the film is Mumbai’s remarkably efficient lunchbox delivery system that collects stacked metal boxes containing lunches that have been prepared by wives and mothers, from the suburban homes of thousands of workers in the morning, delivers the boxes to workplaces in time for lunch, and then returns the empty boxes to the customer’s house in the afternoon.

lunchbox, nimrat kaur, dabbawala, mumbai

Saajan, curious as to where the lunch has come from, places a note in the lunchbox that is then sent back to Ila (played by Nimrat Kaur), and they start exchanging notes.

In the credits at the end of the film it mentions that the film was made with the support of the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers’ Association. Tiffin was originally the name in British India for a light meal taken in the heat of the day between breakfast and dinner, and the container in which the food was stored, usually a cylindrical tin or aluminium container, was known in Urdu as a dabba, meaning a box. The person who carries a tiffin box is known as a dabbawala (also spelt dabbawalla or dabbawallah), and the film shows hundreds of dabbawalas in action. ‘Wala’ is a suffix used to denote a person performing a task relating to a particular thing, so the closest meaning of dabbawala in English is ‘lunch box delivery man’.

The lunch delivery service was started in 1890 by Mahadeo Havaji Bachche with about a hundred men. In 1956, a charitable trust was registered in  under the name of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust, with the commercial arm of the trust being registered in 1968 with the name of Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier’s Association. In Mumbai, between 175,000 and 200,000 lunch boxes are transported by 4,500 to 5,000 dabbawalas, all for the extremely low charge of 300 rupees per month (about £3.20 or $5 in 2014) with the utmost punctuality and reliability.

dabbawala, lunchbox, dabba, mumbai

A dabbawala loads up his bicycle with lunchboxes collected from homes nearby, to take them to the nearest sorting point.

A collecting dabbawala, usually on bicycle, collects the dabbas either from a worker’s home or from dabba makers, who prepare the meals in central kitchens. The dabbawala then takes them to a designated sorting place, where he and other collecting dabbawalas sort (and sometimes bundle) the lunch boxes into groups. The grouped boxes are put on trains at railway stations, usually in carriages designated for the boxes. As many of the carriers are of limited literacy, the dabbas are marked in several ways: (1) abbreviations for collection points, (2) a colour code for the starting station, (3) a number for the destination station, and (4) markings for the handling dabbawala at the destination, to identify where the box has to be delivered to ie. the building and the floor. A detailed explanation of the markings can be seen here.

dabbawala, lunchbox, dabba, mumbai

Dabbawalas push a cart loaded with dabbas from a sorting point to the local railway station.

The service is almost always uninterrupted, even on the days of severe weather such as monsoons. Dabbawalas are familiar with their local area, using shortcuts to deliver their goods on time. In the past, people would communicate between home and work by putting messages inside the boxes, as in the film, but this practice is disappearing with the rise of phone texting. Delivery requests are now often made through text messaging.

Each dabbawala is required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the form of a bicycle, a wooden crate for the tiffins, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and white topi or cap. Each month there is a division of the earnings of each unit, and each dabbawala, regardless of role, is paid about 8,000 rupees per month (about £80 or $125 in 2014). Many dabbawalas belong to the Varkari sect of Maharashtra in which Tukaram’s teachings of helping each other is central to their efficiency and motivation. (more…)

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How is the copyright on a liquorice allsort and a caricature of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher connected?

In February 2010, Sylvester McCoy who played the seventh Doctor Who from 1987 to 1989, claimed, according to DailyTelegraph, that he and Andrew Cartmel, a script editor at the time, were part of a conspiracy in the late 1980s to give episodes of Doctor Who an anti-Thatcher plot. In the article, McCoy, who took over as Doctor Who three months after Margaret Thatcher’s third election victory in 1987, said that they brought politics into the show ‘deliberately’ but ‘very quietly … We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do. Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered’.

Cartmel, who was asked by the programme’s producer at the time, John Nathan-Turner, what he hoped to achieve in being the show’s script editor, recalled ‘My exact words were: I’d like to overthrow the government.’ In an article in The Guardian however in 2013, John Nathan-Turner is said to have replied ‘Oh you can’t do that on Doctor Who, all you can do is say that purple people and green people are equal and should live in harmony’.

sheila hancock, ronald fraser, happiness patrol, doctor who, bbc, margaret thatcher

Sheila Hancock with Ronald Fraser as Joseph C. Though Sheila Hancock was not told that the character of Helen A was based on Margaret Thatcher, she realised this early on and ‘went for it’. Hancock stated that she ‘hated Mrs Thatcher with a deep and venomous passion’.

The Happiness Patrol written by Graeme Curry was broadcast in three episodes in November 1988 and was part of the 25th series of Doctor Who. It featured a transparent caricature of Thatcher, Helen A, the vicious and egotistical ruler of an Earth colony Terra Alpha, played by Sheila Hancock. On Terra Alpha, sadness is against the law – a law zealously enforced by the Happiness Patrol. The penalty for those found guilty of gloom or melancholy is death in a stream of molten candy prepared by Helen A’s chief executioner and confectioner supreme, the psychopathic and robotic killer, Kandy Man, played by David John Hope.

The first episode opens with the Doctor, and his young companion Ace, travelling to Terra Alpha to investigate why its citizens are disappearing without trace. The last episode shows the time travellers helping to foment rebellion amongst the downtrodden population who toil in the factories and mines. The Doctor calls on the ‘drones’ to down their tools and revolt. The script-writers intended this to be an echo of the miners’ strikes and printers’ disputes during Thatcher’s first two terms in office.

doctor who, kandy man, happiness patrol, bbc

Doctor Who confronts the Kandy Man. The appearance of the Kandy Man has been variously described as the weirdest or most ridiculous monster of the era. The Doctor however simply outwits the Kandy Man by gluing him to the floor with lemonade.

In the final episode, while a revolution rages outside the palace walls, the Kandy Man is destroyed by a flow of his own ‘fondant surprise’ which dissolves his external candy shell. And in a low-key comeuppance, the Doctor confronts Helen A and tries to explain that happiness can only be understood if counterbalanced by sadness. As Helen A weeps over her dearly departed lapdog monster Fifi, she experiences her own sadness.

Cartmel said that ‘Critics, media pundits and politicians certainly didn’t pick up on what we were doing. If we had generated controversy and become a cause célèbre we would have got a few more viewers but, sadly, nobody really noticed or cared’. The story has been described as a political allegory of Thatcher’s Britain, and as a morality tale. The Daily Telegraph article added that a spokesman for the BBC said it was ‘baffled’ by the claims. Following falling viewing numbers, no further series of Doctor Who were commissioned after the 26th series in November 1989. Except of course in 2005, the BBC relaunched Doctor Who after a 16-year absence.

(more…)

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